by Kathleen Costa
Sally J. Smith & Jean Steffens
A Mystic Isle Mystery Series by Sally J. Smith and Jean Steffens
Review by Kathleen Costa
Mystic Isle Mystery series is set on the edge of the glorious and mysterious Louisiana bayou. A short ferry ride from the Big Easy across Ol’ Man River visitors dock near The Mansion on Mystic Isle, a renovated plantation jewel catering to those who are passionate about the paranormal, supernatural, and all things just plain creepy. Handed down through the family, Harry Villars has put all he had into making this tourist destination prosperous with ex-New Yorker Jack Stockton, the handsome general manager, and a quirky cast of paranormal performers and entertainers: Mambo the voodoo priestess, Stella by Starlight the astrologer, Aurelia the aura reader, the Great Fabrizio medium extraordinaire, Catalina the tarot card reader, and our hero, Melanie Hamilton, the resident tattoo artist, offering paranormal fans the opportunity to go beyond photos and postcards and get a permanent reminder of their adventure. All this and Cat’s Deputy Quincy Boudreaux lends the necessary support when bodies start piling up on Mystic Isle. Cool!
Writing team Sally J. Smith and Jean Steffens, a top all-time favorite, have penned a well-written and exciting series with a Southern flair, combining cheeky characters, humorous foibles, and of course, a clever cozy murder mystery. The two provide engaging dialogue and descriptions that bring to life the bayou, the Mansion, the manner and personality of the characters, and twists and turns to ‘whet the appetite’ of any amateur sleuth. Melanie Hamilton (Yes, sounds like Gone With the Wind) is a great character, well developed in her strength and cleverness, but also fraught with vulnerabilities with respect to her relationship with Jack—but that makes her realistic and enjoyable to follow.
Playing out in the background is the office romance blooming between Melanie and general manager and Yankee Jack Stockton, dubbed Cap’n Jack by Mel and her BFF Catalina “Cat” Gabor, and along with the sister-like dynamic with Cat, ins and outs of the hotel and its family of employees, the grandfather-like relationship Mel has with Fabrizio, and the mysteries of the bayou you will be greatly entertained. The books are definitely standalones with background and character connections revisited often, and the most immediate mystery always finds an exciting conclusion, but the character connections do evolve. So if you like order, start with Mystic Mayhem, then enjoy a holiday treat with Mystic Mistletoe Murder. There is another Mystic Isle short found in the Killer Beach Read, “Mystic Mojo,” that cannot be missed. This is all topped off with a delightful “lagniappe” (?lan?yap; something given as an extra gift) in every book…an easy to follow recipe from Chef Valentine Cantrall’s kitchen: Valentine’s Shrimp Creole; Hurricane, New Orleans Style; Valentine’s Cajun-style Chicken and Rice Soup, and in the short story you’ll find Ruby’s Famous Bourbon Chicken. It’s delightful fun, engaging suspense, and tasty, too.
The newest book is a…Treasure!
Mystic Mischief earns 5+/5 Treasure Seeker Invasions!
To start, what turned out to be an absolute thrill, I began reading the third book in the Mystic Isle Mystery series. This story has it all starting off with a narrative about the disastrous first encounter with boyfriend Jack Stockton’s parents in Palm Beach causing Melanie Hamilton to cut short the visit and head back to New Orleans. Jack returns with her, he better, but the flight was very chilly since she felt he made a lackluster attempt to rescue her from his mother’s cold shoulder. Being back with friends at The Mansion doesn’t offer much distraction: Wayward gators? Descendants of Jean Lafitte? A missing historical document? And it gets worse when Jack’s former girlfriend Sydney Baxter arrives for what appears to be an extended stay at the resort; the same woman who had been invited over by Jack’s mother in hopes of them rekindling those old feelings. The shock was so deliciously the preverbal ‘monkey wrench.’ “I have to get away from here,” she announces, channeling Scarlett O’Hara, to Harry Villars, owner of the resort. Inviting her into his home for a calming cup of tea, they open the door to a horrible odor. Yes, my inner sleuth guessed it. Something…no, someone had died in the house! It’s all hands on deck before the resort, her job, her love life, and her safety all become at risk. Whew! I love it when things go haywire. This story has it all in ‘spades’ along with lessons in southern manners (Remember, half chicory coffee and half steamed milk is the proper way to go) and a marvelous spicy treat of Valentine’s Cajun-style Chicken and Rice Soup.
It all started here…Y’all!
Mystic Mayhem earns 5+/5 Séance Fiascos!
Newbies, like myself, need not start at the beginning, but this first book does answer a few questions more thoroughly about who is who and what is what. Melanie Hamilton, a marvelous artist herself, joins in to help renovate several local sites after Katrina. Also due to her friendships and work ethic she is eager to help out at the resort when staff is short, especially if she’s asked by handsome general manager Jack Stockton. The Great Fabrizio, the resort’s medium and close friend to Mel, is set with a well prepared séance performance for VIP widow Mrs. Elway who hopes to gain information from beyond about her husband: Restless spirit? Cause of death? When the lights unexpectedly go out and plunge the group into darkness, Melanie is quite impressed by Fabrizio’s realistic production. But when the lights come back on, Melanie is sure Mrs. Elway dead in a plate of clams was not part of the performance. Mel’s first murder investigation was not just a challenge for her, but my inner sleuth was greatly entertained by the various twists and turns and the clever manner of Mel and her friends. And from Chef Valentine’s kitchen we get a marvelous recipe for Valentine’s Shrimp Creole!
Mystic Mistletoe Murder earns 5+/5 Papa Noël & his Eight Gator Sleigh!
I am always excited when my cozy adventure is set during the holiday season, and this series didn’t disappoint by adding to the traditions a Mistletoe Merriment Bash, a fundraiser spearheaded by our Melanie, to help the local orphanage sponsored by St. Antoine’s Parish. Everyone is dressed up as well as Melanie and her new “on the down low” boyfriend Cap’n Jack. With a five-star réveillon dinner, entertainment, and ending with Papa Noël arriving to distribute gifts to the children, the event was going well…well enough, despite Chef Valentine excusing her presence, a change in the elf performers, and a delay with the arrival of Papa Noël. But it really turned desperate when the groundskeeper bursts into the room yelling, “Papa Noël…He dead! He dead!” That’ll ruin the merriment… But not mine. I was engaged in the clever twists and quirky characters that made this a favorite holiday read! And a treat…toast the holidays with this recipe for a Hurricane, New Orleans Style!
Mystic Mojo in Killer Beach Reads earns 5+/5 Delightful Dragon Tats!
Our Melanie is the resort’s tattoo artist running the Dragons and Deities Tattoo Parlor popular for designs that allow clients to get their ‘creep’ on, permanently. Jack Stockton the general manager, is working hard to organize the first Annual Summer Jazz Festival at The Mansion. Harry Villars, the owner, had purchased an old piano that at first sight appeared to be more junk than heirloom. But with a bit of Mel’s elbow grease and the expert touch of a piano tuner, the treasure was revealed to have been owned by legend Booker “Dixieland” Jones and thought, of course, to be haunted. That was proven when during a jam session, and witnessed by a room filled with revelers, the piano moved and pushed the band member off the stage. Shaken he gets up and leaves. Ok, my sleuths-radar is ringing an alarm…I love it! A haint? Haunted, for us outside of the bayou, and one that really spices up the Jazz Festival along with a recipe for Ruby’s Famous Bourbon Chicken!
Mystic Isle Mystery Series earns high praise with 5+/5 Plates of Beignets!
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Arizona Autumn Smith & Steffens Style
There are many, many things to love about autumn, specifically about the month of October. Not the least is the availability of pumpkin spice EVERYthing from latte to cookies to muffins to…yes, indeed, boys and girls—pumpkin spice vodka.
We desert dwellers especially look forward to October because of the weather. After fall has fallen in just about every other part of the country, it eventually crashes down in Arizona in October, and we breathe a collective sigh of relief as the temperatures finally settle in below 100 degrees, and we can look forward to six or seven months of the most awesome weather in the world.
There’s always Oktoberfest, which is technically the last couple of weeks in September, but the celebrations around town bleed over into October. Local farms host harvest festivals with corn mazes, pumpkin patches, and hay rides. We Zonies finally find our appetites after the salads and icy mixed drinks of summer, and reward ourselves with soups simmering in the crock-pots and pies baking in the ovens.
There’s no fall foliage to speak of in the Sonoran Desert, but upstate there’s all kinds of rich autumn color. And more traditional fall aromas like the heady scent of fireplace smoke and damp pine needles can be discovered, along with even cooler temps, just up Interstate 17.
And of course there’s Halloween. Everyone has a favorite Halloween story. Jean’s fondest memories of Halloween were born from the time her children were little. Jean and her Scottsdale neighbors would gather their kids into one big bunch of costumed trick-or-treaters and launch an assault on the unsuspecting local residents. To sustain these dedicated parents through their labor of love, a Radio Flyer wagon would be well stocked with supplies of bags of pretzels and chips and a cooler of ice-cold Heinekens then pulled from house to house while making the rounds. In keeping with the spirit of things, Jean would dutifully smear dill-pickle-green makeup all over her face, pick up her trusty broom, don her Wicked Witch of the West costume, and join the rest of the neighborhood middle-aged ghosts, goblins, clowns, and super-heroes on their evening of cos-play, sugar-harvesting, and child-herding. And of course, Jean always made it a point to keep up her strength by partaking of the bounty from the horn of plenty in the form of that red wagon. After all, why should the kids have a monopoly on Halloween fun?
To enter to win one of the following- One (1) U.S. reader will win a frosted-glass coffee/tea mug and print copy of Mystic Mischief; One (1) U.S. reader will win a print copy of Mystic Mischief; Two (2) readers will win a Kindle/Nook/Kobo copy of Mystic Mischief-simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “mischief,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 7, 2017. U.S. residents only for the print copy. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address. PLEASE STATE IN ENTRY WHETHER YOU WANT PRINT OR KINDLE & which book you want.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
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Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.
What a lovely spread, Kathleen Costa and Kings River Life! Thank you so much for your positive coverage of our (just a little bit) crazy mystery series and for your sparkling prose. HAPPY HALLOWEEN TO EVERYONE! and remember: Not everything is what is seems in the Louisiana bayou, so come on along and get your creep on. Sally J. Smith & Jean Steffens
Thanks for this chance to win!
Louisiana is my favorite place to read about! Its mysterious and so interesting! Happy Halloween!
Print please! Here’s hoping! The mug is awesome too! Donamaekutska7@gmail.com
These sound like fun books to read!
I enjoy Halloween themed mysteries. Enjoyed the book reviews. Happy Oct 1.
I have not yet read the Mystic series, adding it to my TBR! I’ve always want to visit Louisiana and experience the flavorful cuisine I’ve heard so much about. Thank you for the review and interview!
Oops, I almost forgot. Mystic Mayhem, in print would be fantastic. I like to start at the beginning of a series. =)
Halloween themed books, oh my!
kckendler at gmail dot com
forgot, print would be nice!
I don’t often say covers are cute, but this one is.
Love Halloween PRINT books!
Living in the Bayou State, I would love to win a Kindle copy of Mystic Mischief! Thank you for the opportunity! minishoes(at)msn(dot)com
I enjoy this series and love the thought of being able to enter the giveaway for the latest book by Smith and Steffen. As always have a Spooktacular Halloween. robeader53(at)yahoo(dot)com
Nice article. I like these books, not the least because of the setting. Thank you for the chance.
I have craved books like these for some time! Love me a mystery! I read on my Nook so, if I win, please don’t send print. I can “translate” a Kindle book.
Great Post Thanks for the giveaway 🙂
I Love Print books but would be happy to win any of the prizes
iamabho AT GMAIL DOT com
Thanks for the informative post and wonderful contest!!
I’d love to win the Mystic Mischief in print
Thank you for the chance.
I haven’t read this series yet but it looks great and a coffee mug is always a plus for me (I’m a coffee addict).
Sounds like a must read series.
Would love to read. Sounds like a really fun read.
We have a winner!